Overview: A British conservationist moves to Ireland with his wife and infant child, only to find the woods that surround their new home indigenous to a certain malevolent local legend. Entertainment One; 2015; Not Rated; 97 minutes.
Trespassing on Hallowed Grounds: At its center, director Corin Hardy’s directorial debut is a fairly simple genre film that borrows heavily from a litany of obvious theatrical and literal references. Hardy’s debts to close personal friend and fellow visual effects creator, Ray Harryhausen, are obvious in the aesthetic established in creating the Hallow creatures, the demonic ghouls that inhabit the naturally preserved lands of an otherwise picturesque, rural Irish countryside. In terms of direct inspiration, the film borrows from both the body horror and creature feature sub-genres in films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly, while supporting a surrounding fairy tale narrative that delves deeply into near folkloric traditions. The threat mounted against conservationist Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle) and his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic) of having their young son taken away from them after trespassing upon hallowed grounds is real, and the creatures that begin to threaten them after their increasing encroachment upon foreign soil has far reaching political, social, and thematic resonance beyond the boundaries of the forbidden territory depicted within the film proper.
Domestic Colonialists: Much of the rhetorical impetus of Hardy’s film has something to do with provincial development of ever-dwindling expanses of untouched natural preserves within Europe specifically, and around the world by extension. Accordingly, Mawle becomes a monster before his climactic transformation in the film’s thrilling third act, and well before its somber dénouement, in his attempts made towards the provincial development of an uncivilized geographical expanse. By turns, Mawle tacitly takes on the role of the callous colonialist, however much he may wish to treat his latest professional assignment as a mere casualty of his individual employment, domestically speaking. Thus, in seeking to invade the Hitchens’ household, the Hallow are merely responding in kind to mankind’s latest attempt at totalitarian invasion of un-peopled terrain, a sub-tract that makes for a soft parable on the indispensable nature of national parks and undeveloped lands.
Convenient Catharsis: There are moments throughout the first act that feel deeply resonant and novel. Following Mawle as he makes his way through the woods of the film’s titular spirits as he performs among his first of many surveys of the land for imminent development is affecting and serves to establish the mood, atmosphere, and rhetorical impetus of the film’s ecological fable. Unfortunately, the production moves forward at a near breakneck pace that fails to deliver on much of the back story for many of its featured protagonists, thereby lessening the impact of their individual plights across the course of the film’s second and third acts. Brief glimpses into the mythology of the Hallow and the Irish natives who surround them are offered in fits and spurts throughout the course of the film’s fairly concise 97 minute runtime, but in keeping his film as tightly constructed as he does, Hardy sacrifices a lot of subtlety in the service of fast, tight scares, and claustrophobic moments of intimacy that never expand into an all pervasive tone or mood. A lot of the film feels cheap, and more than a little clumsy, even as it all comes together in a tender, well-earned and cathartic conclusion.
Overall: Hardy’s first feature length motion picture is a capable horror movie that delivers the kind of story that it sets itself up to tell, even if it misses out on much of the humanity latent to its various characters and genre tropes.